Names will hurt you
by Wesley C. Davidson
Unfortunately, data on bullying points to the fact that if you are LGBT, you can expect to be bullied. The statistics are alarming.
A 2009 survey of 7,000 LGBTs aged 13-21 revealed that because of their sexual orientation, eight out of 10 students had been verbally harassed at school; four out of 10 students had been physically harassed at school; six out of 10 students felt unsafe at school; and one out of 5 had been victim of a physical assault at school.
Lingering effects of bullying
Did you know that LGBT young adults who experienced high levels of depression and rejection were, according to a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014, nearly six times as likely to have high levels of depression; more than three times as likely to use drugs; more than three times as likely to engage in unprotected sex; and more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide?
LGBT kids don't easily outgrow the pain of bullying, according to a new study by researcher William Copeland, a clinical psychologist at Duke University's Medical Center. Copeland and his colleagues used data from a 20-year-old study that questioned 1,420 kids and their parents about general mental heath beginning at age 9, 11, or 13. Each year, the kids were assessed annually until age 16 and then they came back for follow-ups at age 19 and 20 years.
Copeland found that the bullied victims had a five times greater risk of depression than non-bullied kids, as well as 10 times the likelihood of suicidal thoughts or actions and 15 times the likelihood of developing a panic disorder.
What's a parent to do?
With these lingering effects, what is a parent to do about bullying?
Dr. Jonathan L. Tobkes, co-author with me of When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know, says, "a child's resilience to bullying is based on whether he feels that he has loving and unconditional love. If a child feels judged or ostracized by his family, it is almost impossible to recover from external humiliation."
To stop bullying, including the more pervasive cyberbullying, parents should help their child combat it. Although peer victimization was less likely to occur in schools with bullying policies that are inclusive of LGBT students (zero tolerance policies), you still can't assume that teachers and other school professionals will "have your child's back."
A 2012 study by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network found that 59 percent of students reported hearing homophobic remarks from their teacher or other school staff and that 65 percent of students who identified as LGBTQ felt unsafe because of sexual orientation.
A 2011 National School Climate Survey found that 31.8 percent missed one day of school per month.
Tips to outwit bullies
To make your home a safe haven, consider these suggestions:
Rehearse what your child should say to the bully. It may be as simple as "Stop!" or "That s not funny!" Or he/she may want to ignore the culprit.
Have a specific route to and from school that is not isolated.
Know the chain of command in schools to get results: make an appointment with the teacher or guidance counselor. If you don't get satisfaction, talk to the principal and document all cases of bullying. If you still don't get resolution, go to the school district superintendent.
Tobkes noted that a child may feel ashamed about being bullied, and even think that they caused it, but parents should be sure your child comes to you immediately if anyone is making disparaging remarks to them. A child should know that it is not considered tattling if he/she reports the bully.
If the bully harasses, assaults, or hazes, then get the police involved.
Know the signs of bullying
Some possible signs of bullying include resistance to going to school; a decrease in making social plans after school or on weekends; an unexpected decline in grades; feigning illness to avoid school; and recurrent damage to or loss of property or clothes.
Be sure, as a parent, you model good behavior. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names DO hurt you.
For more resources, visit http://www.glsen.org; the Safe Schools Coalition (www.safeschoolscoalition.org); www.stopbullying.gov./news/media; http://www.meganmeierfoundation.org/discrimination.html; or GSA Network (http://www.gsanetwork.org).
Wesley C. Davidson is a blogger on gay rights issues and the mother of a gay son. She is the co-author, with Dr. Jonathan L. Tobkes, a New York City-based psychiatrist, of When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need to Know (Sterling, 2016).